False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #6: Why the Wrong Tomb Theory Comes Up Short

The Wrong Tomb Theory suggests that the women went to the wrong tomb in their grief and sorrow. Coming across an empty tomb, they left and falsely reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. This theory is disproven by the fact that the women were there at Jesus’ burial. Matthew wrote, “When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb (Matthew 27:59-61). It is hard to believe the women would so quickly forget Jesus’ burial place.

After they visited the empty tomb, the women quickly reported it to Peter and John, who were able to find the tomb, confirming the women correctly communicated its location. The most problematic piece of this theory is that if the women were wrong, the angel was as well. Upon arriving at the tomb, there was an earthquake, the stone was rolled away, and the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6).

Speaking on the totality of the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, Geisler concluded:

In light of the evidence, here’s the question we should ask skeptics: ‘What happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago that so changed the disciples that they were willing to die for their belief in the resurrection?’ The only answer can be that they saw the risen Lord. They did not have a mass hallucination. They weren’t part of some grand plot. They saw the living Jesus Christ following His death on the cross.

Norman Geisler, Reasons to Believe

False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #5: Why the Legend Theory Comes Up Short

Some critics argue that the resurrection of Jesus resulted from an accumulating legend, a position known today as the Legend Theory. After Jesus died, the story of His “resurrection” was exaggerated from person to person. The historical accounts of the resurrection and the writings associated with it (the gospels) do not fit within the style of most myths. Kreeft writes, “There are no overblown, spectacular, childishly exaggerated events. Nothing is arbitrary. Everything fits in. Everything is meaningful. The hand of a Master is at work here.”

The Gospels are different from the style of traditional myths. Instead of wildly exaggerated, overblown, and piecemeal claims, Jesus’ disciples believed, and Christians today believe, that all of Scripture is interconnected and interdependent. The amount of seemingly irrelevant detail surrounding the historical accounts of Jesus’ life and resurrection stands in opposition to the verbose style typical of myth. One such piece is found in John’s gospel. When confronted by the Pharisees with a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, Jesus was asked about a suitable punishment:

He stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

John 6:6-8, NKJV

Nothing more is said of this writing, and no detail is given of what was written. This detail of Jesus stooping to write in the dirt, although seemingly irrelevant, marks an eyewitness. The only explanation is that it happened. There was not enough time for a myth to develop. The Gospels were written within such a short time relative to the actual events that fabrication and elaboration would have been almost impossible due to the actual event’s eyewitnesses. Muller summarized this argument by saying:

One cannot imagine how such a series of legends could arise in an historical age, obtain universal respect, and supplant the historical recollection of the true character [Jesus]….if eyewitnesses were still at hand who could be questioned respecting the truth of the recorded marvels. Hence, legendary fiction, as it likes not the clear present time but prefers the mysterious gloom of gray antiquity, is wont to seek a remoteness of age, along with that of space, and to remove its boldest and most rare and wonderful creations into a very remote and unknown land (Muller 26).

Julius Muller, The Theory of Myths in Its Application to Gospel History Examined an Confuted

A significant detail in disproving the Legend Theory is that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. In first-century Judaism, women possessed no legal right to serve as witnesses. If the empty tomb were a created legend, its creators would not have allowed multiple women to make the discovery since a woman’s testimony in that day was considered worthless. On the other hand, if the writers were reporting what they saw, they would have to tell the truth, regardless of the societal norms.

False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #4: Why the Conspiracy Theory Comes Up Short

The Conspiracy Theory holds that Jesus’ disciples stole His body and fabricated the lie of a resurrection, circulating it as truth. Conspiracy theorists hang their beliefs upon a conversation between the Jewish chief priests and the Roman guard. In the absence of a body, these officials, who both had a great deal to lose if Jesus did rise from the dead, needed to provide a plausible explanation. Matthew wrote of this conceived plan:

Now while they were on their way, behold, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ ‘And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’ And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.

Matthew 28:11-15, NKJV

The basis for this theory is the telling of a lie. To better understand how this theory attempts to explain away Jesus’ resurrection, it’s helpful to know why people lie and how it stands up against the disciples’ actions. One tends to lie for the following reasons: to avoid painful consequences or shame, to gain a favorable result, to cause others to think positively, to get out of doing something, or to protect the feelings of another. 1 The disciples had no clear motive to make up such a lie. As previously stated, a person lies for apparent self-serving reasons. It was not to the disciples’ advantage to lie.

If the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body and made up the resurrection story, the consequences they faced as a result of that lie were indeed painful and shameful. They were scorned, hated, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and beheaded for their belief in the resurrection (Kreeft 185). Men might die for a lie they wrongly believed, but it is impossible to think that one would willingly go to his death for a lie. Further, the disciples were not even expecting a resurrection; instead, they viewed death as final. The disciples were said to still “… not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20:19). Further, James, the half-brother of Jesus, had not believed in Him until after the resurrection (John 7:5). On Sunday morning, when the women went to the tomb, they expected to anoint Jesus’ body, not to see a risen Lord. They expected to find everything as it was on Friday. Mark writes,

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?

Mark 16:1-3

If the resurrection had been a lie on the disciples’ part, it is doubtful that they would have been able to get away with telling it in Jerusalem due to a large number of eyewitnesses. Speaking on the difficulty in sharing a lie so quickly after the actual events, William Lane Craig writes:

The Gospels were written in such temporal and geographical proximity to the events they record that it would have been almost impossible to fabricate events. … The fact that the disciples were able to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem in the face of their enemies a few weeks after the crucifixion shows that what they proclaimed was true, for they could never have proclaimed the resurrection (and been believed) under such circumstances had it not occurred.

William Lane Craig

The character of the disciples argues against such a conspiracy on their part. Among the disciples, there was no dispute in what they believed. Jesus’ disciples were honest and ordinary peasants, not cunning and deceitful lawyers. The change in their lives was from fear to faith, despair to confidence, and cowardice to boldness. It is improbable that twelve poor, fearful, and uneducated tradespeople confronted and confused the powerful Roman world with their lie. The likelihood of these timid disciples stealing the body of Jesus out from under the noses of highly disciplined and skilled Roman soldiers while they all slept (an offense punishable by death) is challenging to accept. The effects of the disciples’ faith in the resurrection are apparent:

In the midst of the tyranny of the persecutors, an innumerable throng of people, both simple and learned, flocked to the Christian faith. In this faith there are truths proclaimed that surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned. Now, for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles. … This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness. … For it would be truly more wonderful than all signs if the world had been led by simple and humble men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions, and to have such high hopes.

Peter Kreeft, Handbook of Christian Apologetics

If there had been a conspiracy and the resurrection was a lie, the Jews needed only to produce the corpse to bring closure to the matter. It would have been in their best interest to do so. They needed Jesus to be dead. Producing His corpse would put to rest the resurrection claim and any thought that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God. It would have been in the best interest of the Romans if Jesus were dead, for the reputation of the Roman Empire would have been called into question if anyone had made their way past the guards and broke the seal on the tomb. They, also, had only to produce the corpse to put the conspiracy to rest. Geisler succinctly states the likelihood of such a conspiracy:

This hypothesis, if true, would make out the disciples to be most pious frauds that ever lived. We would have to believe, contrary to psychological fact, that they died for what they knew to be false, and that they were transformed from cowards to courageous men in a few weeks by a deceptive plot that enabled them to turn the known world upside down. It is hardly more miraculous to believe in the resurrection itself than to believe this highly unlikely hypothesis.

Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics

1 Lickerman, Alex, M.D. “Why We Lie.” Psychology Today. 8 Mar. 2010. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.

False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #3: Why the Hallucination Theory Comes Up Short

The Hallucination Theory asserts that the disciples and other followers were so emotionally involved with Jesus that they only had a hallucination of Him rising from the dead. This theory further holds that Christ’s post-resurrection appearances were only supposed appearances. 

As a result, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ are dismissible. The Hallucination Theory misses the mark as a suitable alternative to Jesus’ resurrection as it fails to adequately handle matters such as the number of witness accounts, medical truths related to hallucinations, and the lack of explanation of other resurrection facts. 

 The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were numerous and took place in different locations lasting for varying amounts of time. Jesus appeared “when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19) and “showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). Mary Magdalene, supposing Jesus to be a gardener, was confronted with the reality of the risen Lord after arriving at the tomb early Sunday morning. He told her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17). She then went and told the disciples what He had told her. 

 The disciples were not the only ones on record as having seen the risen Christ. The Apostle Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ was “…seen by James, then by all the apostles” (v.7), and separately “…last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (v.8). Paul discloses that many of those to whom Christ had personally appeared were still alive, which presented a challenge to his readers to verify their claims. The appearances of Christ lasted too long for them to be a hallucination. Hallucinations usually last for seconds or minutes, rarely for hours. 1 Luke records one such extended appearance, “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Likely the greatest challenge to the Hallucination Theory is the fact that Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred brethren at once” (1 Corinthians 15:6). Clinical psychologists suggest that the most formidable obstacle for the hallucination theory to overcome is its failure to explain appearances to groups of people:

I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent.  

William Dembski, Evidence for God; 50 Arguments for Faith From the Bible

Psychologist Gary Collins was no less clear when he remarked:

Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce a hallucination in somebody else. Since a hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it. And yet, Jesus not only appeared to numerous individuals but to groups, as well—and on numerous occasions.

Dr. Gary Collins, Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: Hallucination

A hallucination may explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it does not explain the empty tomb, the rolled away stone, and Roman and Jewish officials’ inability to produce the body of Jesus Christ. Writing on the certainty of the resurrection, C.S. Lewis offered:

Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention hat ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus. Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that He would get the face of the hallucination right? Is He who made all faces such a bungler that He cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was Himself?

Peter Kreeft, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions

1 Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers  to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994. Print.

False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #2: Why the Swoon Theory Comes Up Short

The Swoon Theory, first proposed in 1828 by naturalist H.E.G Paulus in his work, The Life of Jesus, supposed Jesus Christ did not die on the cross. 1 Instead, proponents believe that He swooned (fainted), was placed in a borrowed tomb in an unconscious state, and was later revived inside the cold, dark tomb. This theory resurfaced in the mid-twentieth century through the writings of two scholars. In The Passover Plot, Hugh Schonfield alleged that Joseph of Arimathea arranged for an unidentified man to give Jesus a drugged drink. As a result, He slipped into a state of unconsciousness, only appearing to be dead. His body was removed from the tomb on Saturday, and He later regained consciousness. He asked the unidentified man to tell His disciples that He had risen, and later died and was reburied. 2 

       In The Jesus Scroll, Donavan Joyce similarly alleged that Jesus had been drugged before His crucifixion. Joyce believed that the Roman soldiers had been bribed and therefore did not examine Jesus’ body closely to ensure His death. As a result, Jesus did not die on the cross. According to Joyce, Jesus was resuscitated in the tomb by a doctor hidden inside the tomb beforehand. 3  The Swoon Theory has serious failing when it comes to an alternate explanation of Jesus’ resurrection. Strong evidence exists that Jesus experienced an actual physical death. The injuries Jesus sustained on the cross, including scourging, made death unavoidable as the nature of crucifixion assured a painful death. 

The scourging produced deep stripe-like lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar to Golgotha” (Edwards 1455-63). This overture to the crucifixion alone would have been grueling and life-draining. 

William Edwards, “On the Physical Death of Jesus,” Journal of the American Medical Association – March 21, 1986.

       Jesus hung on the cross from the “third hour” (Mark 15:22) until the “sixth hour” (Mark 15:33), just before sunset. He bled from gashes in his hands and feet and from the thorns that pierced his scalp. These wounds would have drained away much blood over this time. Besides, crucifixion demands that the condemned constantly pull their bodies up by their hands and push off their injured feet to breathe. “Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.” 4  

       In addition to the medical facts that attest to Jesus’ death, burial customs of the day aid in disproving the Swoon Theory. Once death was established, the corpse was washed, anointed, and wrapped in linen cloths with spices enclosed (John 19:40). The deceased’s arms and legs were tightly bound, and the head covered with a separate piece of fabric. Jesus lay in a tomb with a large stone, likely exceeding one thousand pounds, rolled in front to seal off the entrance (The King James Version Study Bible 1529). The closing off of the tomb was an involved process:

Immediately in front of the doorway (the top of which is more than a foot below the floor of the porch) is a deep trench, commencing a foot or two west of the door, and extending three or four yards along the wall eastward. The bottom of this trench is a short distance below the sill of the door, and is probably an inclined plane. Along this channel a large thick stone disc traverses, fitting very accurately against its western end, which is made concave, to be exactly conformed to the convexity of this large millstone-like disc when rolled to that end—thus closing the doorway most effectively.

James Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible

If it were somehow possible for Jesus to survive Roman crucifixion, the heavy stone in the tomb’s entrance presented a severe obstacle. In His weakened condition, Jesus would have had to move an object that would prove difficult for a healthy man to move, remembering that the stone had to roll uphill. All of this demonstrates that a swoon theory cannot account for the biblical and medical facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 5

1 Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library,  1999. Print.

2 Habermas, Gary R. The Verdict of History; Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988. Print.

3 Ibid.

4 Edwards, William D., Gabel, Wesley J. “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association; 255, no. 11, (March 21, 1986), 1455-63.

5 Habermas, Gary R. The Verdict of History; Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988. Print.

False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #1: An Introduction

As corroborated by the scriptural record, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a foundational principle of Christian faith and doctrine. As the son of God and savior of humanity, Christ’s identity and mission stand on the historical accuracy of His bodily resurrection. 1 For the Apostle Paul, the resurrection is the pivotal event in human history. If it is, in fact, true, the resurrection validates and fulfills the earthly teaching of Jesus Christ. If it not true, however, Christianity as a whole may be dismissed as a false religion. Paul acknowledged the importance and necessity of the resurrection in his writings to the Corinthian church:

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up–if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

1 Corinthians 15:14-17, NKJV

To gain the most straightforward understanding of Christ’s resurrection and the alternative explanations, it is necessary to understand what is meant by resurrection. Three terms are often confused: resuscitation, reincarnation, and resurrection. When a person experiences a resuscitation, he returns as the same person in the same body and will inevitably die and be buried. Afterward, the same person does not return. Those who believe in reincarnation hold that when a person dies, he comes back as a different person in a different body. The belief is that a person comes back repeatedly, each time in a different body that will eventually die. In a resurrection, the person who died returns to the same body- only this body will never face and experience death again. 2

Paul cited the resurrection of Jesus Christ as proof of His deity. He wrote, “Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4). Paul’s linkage of Jesus’ resurrection to His deity offered essentially two choices:

It is the resurrection that sets him apart and authenticates his claim to deity. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, he would be remembered today only as a Jewish moralist who had some inflated ideas about his own relationship to God and made a number of ridiculous demands on those who wanted to be his disciples. On the other hand, if it is true that he rose from the dead, then his teachings about himself are true and his requirements for discipleship must be taken with all seriousness.

Robert Mounce

For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a guarantee of the believer’s resurrection. He shared with the church at Corinth the connection between the two:

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:16-20

Centuries have passed since Christ’s resurrection, and several arguments have emerged that offer alternate theories to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are five common theories. The Swoon Theory holds that Jesus fainted and then resuscitated. The Hallucination Theory advances the belief the disciples only thought they saw Jesus alive. The Conspiracy Theory holds the disciples stole the body of Jesus and then claimed a bodily resurrection. The resurrection was a made-up story forms basis of the Legend Theory. The Wrong-Tomb Theory is straightforward- the disciples went to the wrong tomb on that Sunday morning.

I will break down these alternative theories over the next five days.

1 Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible 1988.

2 Geisler, Norman L. Reasons for Belief; Easy to Understand Answers to 10 Essential Questions. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013.

The Goodness of Good Friday

Today, the Christian community celebrates Good Friday. The Friday before Easter Sunday is when the Christian faith stops to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. What makes it so “good”? It is the day death died.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman church, “But God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8. Paul’s words in verse eight sound so simple, “Christ died for us.” This verse is pregnant with truth, love, and forgiveness. It is not until we understand how Christ died that we can even appreciate what He did for us. For six hours that Friday, Christ’s body hung on the cross, bleeding with nails in His hands and feet. His blood spilled that we might know salvation.

I don’t believe anyone would consider Roman crucifixion to be “good.” At the time of Christ’s death, crucifixion was the most brutal and painful manner in which a person could die. The Roman soldiers were professionals death; they ate it, breathed it, and slept it; they even seemed to enjoy it. They seemed to think nothing of it. On the one hand, the Jewish religious leaders claimed to be the spokesmen for God and knew what it took to please Him. They were “good” people.

On the other hand, they hated Jesus because He spoke of God and for God. The leaders missed the fact that the Son of God was with them; He talked with them, He walked with them, He brought to light their sinfulness. If anyone should have known Jesus was the Messiah, it was them. The actions of both groups seem unimaginable.

What happened to Jesus was not “good.” However, a great good came out of it. Left alone and to ourselves, we are lost. Left alone and to ourselves, there is a broken relationship. Left alone and to ourselves, there is a purpose in life we will never recognize. The Friday Jesus died, the way for the sinner to know forgiveness and redemption was made straight, straight from the veins of Christ to the very throne of God. In our lost state, God still loved us. Paul said it so right back in verse eight, “God demonstrated His love toward us.” The good that happened on Friday was salvation, a rescue.

Jesus left us a command to remember Him. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is for such a remembrance. We take time to remember His broken body and His shed blood. Sadly, we need a reminder not to forget the One who gave His life for us. The actions of that Friday were indeed not “good.” However, the results of that day are priceless. As Pastor S.M. Lockridge once said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

Entering 2021; A Plan for Reconnection at First Baptist Church

As we head into 2021, let me share some thoughts about the future. When the ball dropped on 2020, none of us could have predicted that we would be wrapped up in a worldwide pandemic three months into the year. The thought of schools, airports, businesses, and churches closing was unfathomable. The economic, emotional, and physical toll taken on our country may never be fully known. Some business owners have had to lay off employees, modify business plans, scale back services, and unfortunately close their doors forever. Schools have struggled with creating online platforms for learning comparable to in-person learning while ensuring students don’t fall behind. Students also missed out on the food, counseling, and other social services provided by school districts. Church leaders found their congregations dwindle due to stay-at-home orders and safety concerns. They witnessed ministries paused or canceled, and pastoral care became difficult and distant. The most significant harm to the body of Christ rests in one word: disconnected. As we enter approach 2021, the pandemic is not over. Businesses are still closed in parts of our country. Schools are still providing instruction through brick and mortar and online platforms. With a vaccine becoming readily available to the general public over the next few months, prayerfully, we are on the road to some sense of normalcy. With that being said, it is time for First Baptist Church to reconnect. 

To facilitate this reconnection, we will take two intentional steps. The first step is an adjustment to our Sunday evening schedule. Since March, we have not held evening services, and the easy thing would be to discontinue these services altogether. I don’t believe that is wise. Instead, beginning in February, we will move our evening service away from a single Bible study toward ministry-focused opportunities for reconnection through fellowship, service, prayer, family, and outreach. What will be the structure of these services? 

  • We will schedule some Sunday evenings as “off” – encouraging family time without the guilt of missing anything.
  • We will schedule corporate prayer meetings on some Sunday evenings.
  • We will organize fellowship events on some Sunday evenings to allow our people to gather and invite their unchurched friends and family.
  • We will dedicate some Sunday afternoons to serving our membership and neighbors who have needs.
  • Some Sunday evenings will be given to outreach and witness training.  

There are two goals in making this move. First, we want to take better advantage of Sundays- a day already carved out for “church.” Second, we want to include more of our congregation in ministries and opportunities that strengthen the body and promote individual growth. I understand that not everyone will agree with this move. I have been in the ministry long enough to know any change to an established schedule can be difficult and problematic. As I shared with our leadership team, I believe this is the necessary adjustment for this season of our church life. It may not be forever. My prayer is that our people will at least give it a chance.  

The second step is an increased focus from the pulpit on the importance of the body of Christ and the gospel community it fosters. In January, I will share a sermon series entitled “Gospel Community,” focusing on the barriers that slow it and avenues that allow it to flourish. In February, I will begin a sermon series that walks through the book of Ephesians. Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians, highlighting the beautiful connection between Christ, Church, and Community, is one we all need entering the new year. 

None of this will be easy. We have a long way to go. When the church’s work pauses for some time, there are significant challenges in its resumption. We will battle the urge to remain disconnected because we have grown accustomed to it over the past nine months. We will see some ministry volunteers not return right away due to health concerns. We will battle the pace at which we move forward, remembering we are still in a pandemic. Despite the challenges and uncertainty, I enter 2021 confident of the Lord’s presence among us and the work He wants to do through us. 

The Difficulty of Christmas

Today is Christmas – a day of birth. Luke 2 records the event: “10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” His birth is significant. It marks Jesus’ entry into this world – of whom the prophets spoke. It marks Jesus’ entry into this world – laying aside all royalty claims, living as a servant to all. It marks Jesus’ entry into this world – making the journey from the manger to the cross, securing for fallen and sinful man redemption and forgiveness. His birth is a reason to celebrate.

Our redemption and salvation began on this day. If there had been no birth, there could have been no earthly instruction about who God is and what He desires from us. If there were no instruction and teaching, there would have been no rejection by those Jesus came to reveal Himself. If there had been no rejection, there would have been no prophecy fulfillment, which solidifies our hope and assurance. If there were no rejection, there would be no crucifixion – no atoning death for the sins of man. If there were no crucifixion and death, there certainly would have been no resurrection. It is no secret that this is my favorite time of the year. I look forward to this season more than any other. This season brings with it a sense of amazement and child-like wonder. The carols, family gatherings, gift-giving, and the feeling of goodwill toward our fellow man only add to the enjoyment of the season. To God, I am thankful for this day of birth.

Today is Christmas – a day of death. I lost my dad on December 25th, 2012, after a brief six-month battle with lung cancer. It still doesn’t seem real. I remember the events of that day clearly. We were spending Christmas vacation with Terri’s parents in Tallahassee, Florida. Dad was in a nursing home in Tifton, Georgia, about two hours away. We had seen him the day before and knew his conditioning was worsening quickly. We received a call from my step-mother around 6:00 am. She said we should come now if we wanted to see him. We made the trip to Tifton. The Hospice nurse was in the room and shared what we could expect over the next few hours. I have sat with many, many families as medical professionals shared the same information. I admit it was very different being on the other side of the conversation. I had the privilege of being in the room alone with my dad when he took his last breath. To have been there to do so, I am very thankful.

The relationship with my dad was the best five years before his death. As I shared at his funeral, my dad battled many personal demons that led to great turmoil and distance. My dad was a Christian. He came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior through a faith-based alcohol treatment program at the rescue mission where he was living. For this, I am thankful. I miss my dad terribly. There are many things I would love to share with him. I would love to be able to introduce him to his great-grandchildren. I would give anything to join him at the Waffle House (his favorite restaurant) and talk over a cup of coffee. 

One day. Two profound events. Countless emotions. I am thankful that the baby born in the manger is now the Prince of Peace. More than ever, the words of Isaiah 26:3 ring true: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You. Because he trusts in You”.

Dear Kalli and Olli

kalliolliblog (2)These two beautiful people are my grandkids: Kalliahpe Adelaide (Kalli) and Olliver Ryan (Olli).

This letter has been on my mind for many weeks. At times I’ve tried to write, but the timing did not feel right. With the events of the past week in full view, the timing finally feels right.

You are far too young to understand what is going on in the world today. You may see images flash on the television while you play in the living room. You have no way to appreciate the stories behind the pictures. You may hear adults talking about how violent people have become. You are far too young to comprehend the magnitude of the current situation in the country in which you live. You are far too young to understand what words like racism, riot, protest, and injustice means. As far as you’re concerned, those words are no different than cat, duck, snack, or truck.

If you could understand what is on television, you would see people treated unfairly and differently due to their skin color. You would see people elected to protect us and make our nation safe, act selfishly, and prideful at times. You would see people not caring for their neighbors and each other. You would see different rules for different people. You would see the law and those sworn to protect it, like your daddy, ignored, ridiculed, and threatened. You would see a country at war with itself.

I’m thankful your world currently consists of fishing, toys, naps, dogs, cats, baby ducks, innocent laughs and smiles, Trolls, the Furchesters, and milestones such as walking, reading, the next tooth, potty-training, and the like. I’m thankful that through your innocent eyes, you see love modeled by your mommy and daddy, as well as others around you who care about you more than you will ever know. I’m thankful that through your innocent eyes, you see people as equal- regardless of what they look like, what job they have, or where they live. I’m thankful that you see simplicity through your innocent eyes, for the days will come that bring complications. I’m thankful that you see fun through your innocent eyes, for the days will come that bring difficulty and pain. I’m thankful that you see honesty through your innocent eyes, for the days will come that brings betrayal and deceit.

Babies, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the world you’re growing up in will likely be more divided than when you begin Kindergarten. I’m sorry the grown-ups who are in charge sometimes act like your peer group. I’m sorry that you are growing up in a broken world. Please know this was not God’s intention. I’m sorry that you will have even greater challenges than I did growing up. I’m sorry I will not be able to shield you from the ugly and hurtful things you will see and experience in your lifetimes.

As you grow up, I want you to remember a few things. First, remember there is a God who created you, loves you, knows the number of hairs on your head, and desires you know Him in a personal way through His Son Jesus. Second, choose to see the good in people. I say choose because it is your choice. Never allow someone else to tell you how to treat or think about another person. Finding the bad is easy; looking for the good requires greater effort. Third, always run to the protectors- like your daddy. There are people in this world who choose to protect others’ safety and put others ahead of themselves. Fourth, never doubt your mommy and daddy’s love for you. Next to God’s love, there will never be a more powerful, consistent, and honest form of love than the one that comes from your mommy and daddy. Never doubt that.

Babies, I want you to know I pray for you. I began praying for you the moment I found out you would join this world. I pray that you will come to know the full weight of God’s love, and you will, in return, love, serve, and pursue Him all the days of your lives. I pray you both will do your part to make the world a better place. I pray for wisdom as make decisions early on that will undoubtedly shape your future. I pray your hearts will be guarded against the anger, hatred, confusion, and sin so commonplace today. I pray for discernment as you choose who to allow into your lives. I pray your future friends will be trustworthy and always have your best interests in mind. I pray that your future spouses will love the Lord and respect you. I pray you will always want to hold your mommy and daddy’s hand.

Finally, I pray for your mommy and daddy. For your mommy, I pray as she works inside and outside the home to help provide a stable, secure, and happy life for you both. I pray the Lord will strengthen her and that her patience to be great- for motherhood is a ministry from which there is no break. I pray she will love your daddy more and more every day. For your daddy, I pray for him as he works hard to lead your family and to build an environment where you feel safe and protected. I pray the Lord will strengthen him and increase his patience as he faces uncertainties every day. I pray he will love your mommy more and more every day.

I had always heard that grandchildren brought with them a special kind of love. I couldn’t believe that was true- until I met you. I love you more than words can express. I promise to be with you as you grow up, and I will carry you in my heart wherever the Lord leads.